'Frontline' documentary targets the NFL's handling of its concussion problem
On Sunday, like more than a few Americans, I spent a lot of my morning and afternoon watching football.
I yelled at my TV as Tom Brady's wide receivers dropped one catchable pass after another. And when the Patriots were done losing in a rainy morass, I concentrated my attentions on my fantasy team and yelled at my TV as that squad went down in flames as well.
The fantasy thing already made me feel guilty anyway. Because of matchups, I was starting Michael Vick at quarterback, which ended up being a bad idea on several levels, but briefly left me rooting for Michael Vick.
Then I watched a screener for Frontline's "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" and felt even worse.
No matter how anybody tries portraying it, the antagonist in "League of Denial" isn't the sport of football, though it's hard to imagine any parent watching the two-hour special and not coming away with at least minor concerns regarding the long-term damaged caused by the inherent nature of the sport, regardless of what level it's played on.
Football is portrayed as dangerous. Sure.
The NFL is portrayed as criminal, as either negligent or nefariously conspiratorial, and there's little doubt that people who watch "League of Denial" will have a hard time looking at Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue's empire in the same way, much less cheer on a punishingly hard hit with the same bloodthirsty vigor.
But "League of Denial" isn't just an anti-NFL smear job. No, by refusing even cursory participation in "League of Denial," the NFL has pretty well smeared itself and the assumed causality of ESPN's decision to largely bail on the report has left its own bruises.
Like any good David & Goliath story, "League of Denial" correctly assumes that the hype machine has long worked in favor of the Goliath and it focuses on the myriad Davids in the attempts to learn more about connections between long-term brain injuries and football. That's why even though "League of Denial" will stir up anger and frustration and sadness, my dominant takeaway was compassion for the wounded athletes and their loved ones and admiration for the crusaders who, for the most part, don't want to bring the NFL down. No, the heroes of "League of Denial" are simply people who want to learn more, people who want the NFL to use its resources to gain knowledge, rather than concentrate its might on obfuscating. So "League of Denial" is disheartening, but it's also inspiring.
[Bit more after the break…]